If it seems like we talk about housing a lot on Code Switch, it's because we do. But the fact is it's really hard to talk about all the ways race correlates to different outcomes — in health or education, say— without talking about where people live. Take household wealth, for example: The major reason whites have so much more of it is because of how much likelier they are not just to own homes, but to own homes in places where that property might appreciate in value. (Alas, that state of affairs was hardly an accident, while other, harder-to-detect fetters to housing for people of color still shape the market.)
It is not surprising that while many Americans are less than sanguine about the housing market, blacks and Latinos are particularly pessimistic. New research from the MacArthur Foundation found that respondents from those groups were much more likely than whites to say that the housing market was a serious problem for them.
More than seven in 10 blacks and almost eight in 10 Latinos believe the country is still in the midst of the housing crisis. Those groups were also more likely to believe that the worst of the housing crisis is yet to come.
Blacks and Latinos were also more likely to say they took on a second job and more likely to have stopped saving for retirement. And they were much more likely to tell pollsters that housing costs forced them to move to a neighborhood with worse schools or where they felt less safe.
"While a lot of the statistics made these proportions seem similar, at significantly higher rates, African-Americans and Hispanics have had to make at least one of these sacrifices," said Rebecca Naser of Hart Research, which conducted the study for the MacArthur Foundation.
And so one begets the other: A lack of household wealth because of historical barriers to homeownership makes people more vulnerable to the uptick in housing costs.
I asked Naser why Latinos and blacks were so much more likely than whites to say that housing forced them to move to worse neighborhoods, and she told me that it was at least in part due to the makeup of those populations. Blacks and Hispanics rent at higher rates so they're probably more mobile," she told me.
That jibes with research we reported on late last year from Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies. That study found that rising rental costs are swallowing an ever-larger portion of folks' paychecks. Here again, blacks and Latinos had it especially bad: The study found that almost 60 percent of all black and Latino renters pay more than 30 percent of their income in rent — the traditional threshold for housing affordability. When you're spending around that percentage of your income on housing, you're skimping on other important expenses.
"People of color are more likely to have lower incomes. And lower-income households have fared quite poorly [as rents have risen]," Chris Herbert, the lead researcher on the Harvard project, told me in December.
(Our play-cousin Aboubacar N'Diaye posed some theories as to just why the rent is too damn high.)
Despite this outlook, Latinos still say they aspire to homeownership at higher rates than other groups. Latinos were also more likely to see homeownership as an excellent investment — 53 percent said it was, as opposed to 43 percent who told the pollsters that that was no longer the case. (For blacks, those numbers were almost completely split, at 47 and 46 percent, respectively.)
Still, Naser said, "overwhelmingly, people [of all backgrounds] think it's less likely today than it was 20 or 30 years ago."
That might explain another phenomenon; Naser said that there's also been a large steady move away from ownership and towards renting.
"More than anything that's happened is that their confidence as homeownership as a way to build wealth, that's been chipped away," she said.
This is especially true for blacks and Latinos; the implosion of the housing market had disastrous consequences for blacks and Latinos, wiping out decades of economic progress.
But some of this shift away from homeownership is probably cultural. "Young people are waiting longer to marry, and people are viewing their housing choices in a more fluid way," Naser said.
The pollsters asked people who were currently homeowners if they could see themselves renting in the future. "And 40 percent said 'Yeah, they could,' " Naser said. "Owning versus renting is becoming a false binary. I think the stigma about renting is breaking down."
Still, she said, the desire to own a home remains an essential part of the American dream for many. Naser said that the researchers conducted focus groups as part of their survey. "We had people who had been foreclosed upon during the crisis — and what they wanted was to get back to a place where they could afford to buy a home," she said. "I think this is pretty deeply ingrained in the culture."